Embrace Boston Strong mantra

Exceptional medical work, unseen, unheard and unsung
By Bernie Monegain
12:00 AM
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The Boston Marathon bombings last month, and the aftermath, were horrific, senseless and life changing. They spotlighted the worst in people, and they brought out the best – in police, public safety officials, first responders, doctors, surgeons  – indeed, all citizens – those who rushed from the sidelines toward the explosions to help the injured, as well as those who the next day had to explain to their children why they couldn’t leave their homes, or even open the door.
Physicians, nurses and trauma surgeons who work at some of Boston’s most elite hospitals – and often in crisis situations around the world – performed life-saving and limb-saving deeds. They tended to the dying, the maimed and the critically injured in seemingly orchestrated fashion, without missing a beat. Some appeared before TV cameras – graceful, humble and true.
Underpinning much of this exceptional medical work, unseen, unheard and unsung, were the hospital IT teams that keep vital networks going to help provide the right care in the operating rooms, the recovery rooms and at the bedside. Silently, they help the medical team save lives.
And, that’s as it should be. As Jim Noga, CIO of Partners HealthCare in Boston, which includes Mass General and Brigham & Women’s hospitals, sees it, the IT team plays a supporting role. “IT participates in emergency planning exercise and understands the importance of steady-state, he says, “assuring the high availability of systems, keeping communications channels open and otherwise staying out of the way.”
“Maintaining a high bandwidth, reliable and secure infrastructure was key,” John Halamka, CIO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told Healthcare IT News. BIDMC was one of several hospitals treating bombing victims last month. “The demand for communication – voice, email, social media and streaming video was very high,” Halamka said. “The scalability built into the design of all our systems – networks, servers, storage, and client devices – served us well."
And, at the end of the first gruesome day, what CIO would not want to hear, as Halamka did, this assurance from the director of support services?
“Aside from the shock and eventual anger we all felt at having this happen in our home town, it was a typical operational day."
In the midst of crisis what we all thirst for is a typical day.
We take our safety amid crowds for granted, we often do not think about the good work and the kindness that occurs around us day in and day out, and many of us do not know, or do not think about what a difference a strong and well-run IT department, can make to patient care – until it’s put to the test.
In crises, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, or the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, systems are put to the test. They have to be ready to deliver that “typical operational day,” and that means on many fronts – bandwidth, uptime, delivering vital information, making sure the personal health information remains private and secure, and yet that it can be shared between hospitals and among the medical team that needs it.
There are plenty of health IT issues left to untangle and to solve – standards, interoperability, mobility, scalability and quality, to name a few. And, as Mike Miliard’s cover story in this issue spotlights: security. Tim Zoph, CIO of Northwestern Memorial Healthcare in Chicago, urges healthcare organizations to cultivate a culture of security. In his talks across the country, Zoph has also called attention to a new area of vulnerability – medical devices, such as pacemakers. It is that piece of security, or rather lack thereof, that Miliard explores.
To meet health IT’s many challenges, to continue to find solutions, to continue to invent, to figure out the best connections and the best practices requires the endurance of a marathoner. It calls for discipline, focus and training, which together build strength.
Whether Boston is home or not, regardless of where we live in this county, we all would do well to strive to be Boston Strong.